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A Moving History of Middle Sumatra 1600-1870

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   Modern Asian Studies  39 ,  1  ( 2005 ) pp.  1 – 38 .  C  2005  Cambridge University PressDOI: 10.1017/S0026749X04001374 Printed in the United Kingdom  A Moving History of Middle Sumatra, 1600   – 1870  1 FREEK COLOMBIJN  Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies(KITLV), Leiden Introduction The history of the early modern Malay world has been told largely in terms of processes of Islamization, the rise and demise of states,European voyages of discovery, trade with China, India and Europe,and colonial conquest. With a few important exceptions, these studiesunderestimate,ifnotignore,theroleoftransportationinthehistoricaltransformationsofSoutheastAsia.JustasClivePonting’s( 1992 )well-known  Agreenhistoryoftheworld  rewritestheworld’shistoryinecologicalterms, this article aims to describe the political and economic history of Middle Sumatra in terms of transportation of goods and people.Hence this is a moving history.I do not wish to propose a major overhaul of the historiography of Sumatra, but believe that a thorough understanding of transportationhelps to see familiar historical facts in a clearer, and sometimesdifferent, light. The body of the text gives a detailed overview of the transportation network in Middle Sumatra between  1600  and 1870 . For the most part, the history of transportation in MiddleSumatra has not yet been written and is valuable in its own right.Middle Sumatra is the area covered by the present provinces of WestSumatra, Bengkulu, South Sumatra, Jambi, and Riau. From around 1600 , information about Sumatra began to flow in European circles,and by   1870 , Dutch colonial control had become firmly establishedand was about to steer the island towards a new economic course. 1 This article forms part of a research project on environmental changes in MiddleSumatra between  1600  and  1870 . I am grateful to the Royal Netherlands Instituteof Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV) and the Netherlands Foundationfor the Advancement of Tropical Research (WOTRO) for their financial support thatallowed me to delve into the national archive of Indonesia. I would also like to thankRivke Jaffe for improving my English. 0026 – 749 X/  05  /$ 7 . 50 +$ 0 . 10 1  2  FREEK COLOMBIJN In the last two sections I take the analysis one step further and answerthe question: in what ways did the transportation network influencethe economic and political changes on the island? Although I do notmake an attempt here to compare Sumatra with other parts of theregion, I believe that the findings are relevant for other areas in theMalay world.The importance of transportation is demonstrated by the immensesymbolic power of some historical routes. The Nile, the Mississippi,and the Suez Canal are but a few examples of water routes that haveinspired novelists. The Trans-Siberia Railway and the Orient Expressare perhaps the most celebrated railways. The Roman Via Appia, 2 the Inca Roads over which relay runners carried messages at a speedof   400  km per day (Von Hagen  1957 ), the caravan routes of theSahara, the Silk Route,  la voie sacr´ ee  leading over  67  km from the baseat Bar-le-Duc to the battlefield of Verdun, the Great Ocean Roadin southern Australia, the highways of the Third Reich, the Trans- Amazon Highway, the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and Route  66  are all very famous roads, albeit for varying reasons.With these examples in mind, practically every historian will agreethat transportation plays a key role in the centralization of states, thesubjugation of isolated insurgent peoples, the economic developmentofperipheralregions,theexchangeofideas,andthementalmapsthatpeople make of their world. Its role is so obvious that transportation isoften simply taken for granted: an element of the landscape in whichmore exciting human dramas such as campaigns, mining and theopening of plantations are staged. Even today, ‘because it appears soself-evident, there has been comparatively little work undertaken onthe role of transport in economic development’ (Rigg 1997 : 172 ), andSoutheast Asian national governments and multilateral developmentbankshaveinvestedlargesumsinroadconstructionratheruncritically (Colombijn  2002 ).The obvious, however, should never be overlooked, and fortunately thereareanumberofinterestinghistoricalstudiesthatdonotneglecttransportation in Sumatra. Several historians have remarked uponthe importance of the monsoon. Ships sailing either from the MiddleEast and India to China or vice versa had to wait in the Straits of Malacca for a change of monsoon in order to pursue their voyage with 2 The roads of ancient Rome have been analysed by Ray Laurence ( 1999 ) in anoutstanding book that, more than any other work, demonstrates the kind of analysisI had in mind while working on this article.   A MOVING HISTORY OF MIDDLE SUMATRA  3 a favourable wind. This forced interruption led to the existence of agenealogyofmajorentrepˆotsintheStraits,fromSriwijayaviaMalaccaand Riau to Singapore (see for instance Van Leur  1955 :  165 – 6 , 193 – 4 ; Meilink-Roelofsz  1962 :  13 ,  37 ; Reid  1993 :  36 – 53 ,  64 – 7 ).Following Bronson ( 1977 :  43 ), the term dendritic (tree-like) modelhas gained acceptance. The dendritic model refers to the rise of precolonial states in river systems in East Sumatra. The ports atthe river mouths controlled all interior shipping in the hinterland;political-economic subcentres developed at the branches of the rivers(Andaya  1995 ; Colombijn  2003 ; Hall  1985 :  13 – 4 ; Kathirithamby-Wells  1993 :  78 – 81 ; Reid  1993 :  53 – 7 ). Gusti Asnan has written adetailedstudyoftradeandshippinginWestSumatrainthenineteenthcentury (Asnan  2000 ,  2002 ). Akira Oki ( 1986 ) has analysed the rivertrade in Middle Sumatra in the nineteenth century. While thesepublications form a base on which to build, they also leave many questions unanswered. 3 In this article I combine these older insights with new information collected from Dutch and British archives andtravel reports. Ecological and Political Context Sumatracoversanareaof  434 , 000 squarekm,andmeasures 1 , 650 kmfrom north to south, and  350  km from west to east at its widest point(Map  1 ). 4 Its most distinctive feature is the Bukit Barisan mountainrange, which stretches from the north to the south tip. The BukitBarisan forms the backbone of Sumatra and divides the island intotwo unequal parts: the narrow west coast and the wider half of hillsand alluvial lowland in the east. The Bukit Barisan itself is bisected 3 In addition to the works mentioned here, there are two good monographs ontransportationworthbeingmentioned,althoughtheydealwithalaterperiod.AmarjitKaur ( 1985 ) has written on transportation in Malaya ( 1870 – 1957 ). The railway system, in competition with roads, facilitated the transformation of the peninsulainto a lopsided export economy, which in its turn produced a plural society and newsettlements on the west coast. Joep `a Campo ( 1992 ) produced a voluminous work onthe development of the Koninklijke Paketvaart Maatschappij (KPM), a monopolisticpackageboatservice,whichcontributedtothepoliticalintegrationoftheNetherlandsIndies archipelago. The same argument, including land transport, was made morepointedly by Howard Dick ( 1996 ). 4 The actual geographical layout of Sumatra is from northwest to southeast. Incommon parlance, however, one speaks of the north and south end of the island; thelong sides are called the west and east coasts.  4  FREEK COLOMBIJN B      u    k   i     t    B    a   r    i     s    a  n    S  u n d a  S  t r a i  t B      u    k   i     t    B    a   r    i     s    a  n   I    n  d    i     a  n  O   c   e  a  n   Nias S  t  r  a  i  t  s   o f    M  a  l  a  c  c  a   RiauJambiPalembangBengkuluWest SumatraLampung    T   a   l  a  n  g    b   a  w a  n  g M   u   s  i   B   a   t   a  n  g   h  a r  i   I  n d  r   a   g    i   r  i K     a    m    p  a r  S  i  a  k R   o k  a  n    K   o  m   e    r      i n   g   R  a   w  a   s PadangHighlandsKerinciRejangPasumah    T   e  m b  e  s  i  N  a t  a l    L.Singkarak  area above 500 m 100 km Map  1 . by the Semangko Fault Zone, which cleaves the whole range into anelevated western half and a lower eastern half. A number of volcanoesstraddle the fault zone. Debris from erosion and volcanic eruptionshas filled the highland valleys of the Semangko Fault Zone, creating aflat, and sometimes fertile, underground. The asymmetrical locationof the Bukit Barisan and the dissimilar relief of the west and easthalf of Sumatra both have a profound impact on the hydrology. Thehigh mountains on the western side of the Semangko Fault Zone formSumatra’s watershed. Short rivers run down the steep western slopesoftheBukitBarisantowardstheIndianOcean.Totheeastanumberof long, wide rivers flow, emptying in the Straits of Malacca: the Rokan,the Siak, the Kampar, the Indragiri, the Batanghari, and the Musi(Van Bemmelen  1949 :  21 – 5 ,  188 – 9 ; Wolfram-Seifert  1992 :  73 – 6 ).In  1600 , the west coast was sparsely inhabited. Cultivation of pepper at the foot of the mountains developed in the seventeenth
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